Paper 2

The Paper 2 exam consists of six essay questions, only one of which must be answered during the timed period. The essay is to be written about the Part 3 literary texts. Therefore, it is a test of understanding literature in context. Although the questions will change from exam to exam, they will always focus on the connection between, style, form, author, purpose and audience. Selecting good Part 3 texts is therefore essential.

These pages offer an overview of the requirements, the criteria, sample student work and tips on Paper 2 essay writing. Besides familiarizing yourself with these pages, you will want to study previous exam questions, practice writing under exam conditions and research your literary texts carefully. You can find several activities that help you develop the skills you need for the Paper 2 exam on the 'skills' page.

Although it seems as if a quarter of your IB grade is determined in one brief sitting, in fact you can do a lot to prepare for this exam so that it is not so nerve-racking. Careful planning and a clear strategy are half the battle. What one writes is only the tip of a very large iceberg.

The basics

  • Answer 1 of 6 essay questions. SL and HL students receive exactly the same 6 questions.
  • Essay must answer one question in relation to both literary texts that were studied for Part 3.
  • Essay must answer one question in relation to 2 or 3 of the literary texts studied for Part 3.
  • has 1.5 hours to answer this essay question.
  • has 2 hours to answer this essay question.
  • Paper 2 grade counts for 25% of the final grade.

Sample questions

Are you curious to see what Paper 2 questions look like? Here is a sample of questions that represent the kinds of questions that could appear on the exam. They are inspired by the sample questions that appear in the Language A: Language and Literature guide.

  1. Explain how the authors of at least two literary works have portrayed a social group in a particular way. How might the contexts of the authors have influenced their portrayal of these social groups?

  2. It is often said that literature is a voice for social commentary. How is this true of at least two works that you have read.

  3. To what extent can the meaning of a literary work change over time? How does this question apply to at least two works that you have read?

  4. To what degree are readers influenced by their culture and context. Explain how at least two works could be read differently depending on the culture of their audience.

  5. 'Coming of age' is a common theme in literary works. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the author's own youth influenced their portrayal of this theme.

  6. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the setting both influences the characters and reflects the author's own context.

  7. How are the characters from at least two literary works representational of people from the time and place in which they were written?

  8. Why might two of your Part 3 works be considered 'timeless'?

  9. With regards to two literary texts, explain why authors may have chosen to depict events in a particular sequence or order.

  10. How do two literary works both reflect and challenge the spirit of the times in which they were written?

Comments 16

Guy Cheney Guy 16 December 2014 - 15:28

One question: Do the three works for HL (or two for SL) have to be of the same genre? Can genres be mixed?

David McIntyre 17 December 2014 - 03:24

Hi Guy,

Genres can be mixed, as long as your course as a whole has the right mix of genres, periods, and places.

Students sometimes struggle to do well in criterion C (particularly when they choose a context focused question). Mixing genres can be a way of drawing attention to the different ways in which literary texts establish meaning and effect, and you can hope that some of this eventually becomes apparent in students' Paper 2 responses.


Alberto Tello 12 January 2015 - 12:43

Hi David.

I am bit confused here. Some of these questions are different from the ones in the English A guide. I want to practise all the questions. Do these questions here mean that they could also appear in the exam?
Thanks, as usual.

David McIntyre 12 January 2015 - 13:35


You cannot know what questions will appear in the exam, although you can anticipate the kinds of question that may appear. If you look at past exams - your coordinator may be able to help you here - you can read the questions that have appeared for May 13. November 13, May 14, and November 14. Each exam contains six questions (therefore twenty-four in total). These questions can be used to prepare students for Paper 2.

For copyright reasons, these questions cannot be republished here.

Let me know if you remain uncertain.



Sarah Ramsdale 13 January 2015 - 14:43

Hi David,
I'm new to teaching the IB and I am struggling (finding it impossible) to find an example of what the exam papers look like. I'm teaching HL Lang and Lit. Could you please point me in the right direction?



David McIntyre 13 January 2015 - 21:05

See my mail to you Sarah.

Caroline Payne 22 January 2015 - 07:11

Hi David! I'd love your advice if possible please...
I'm teaching HL again this year. The question states in paper 2 that students should refer to 'at least 2 texts' yet I've heard that students are not penalised for writing about only 2 of the texts they are taught. Should they deal with all 3 texts equally, deal with 2 plus one text covered superficially, or is it better to answer on 2 texts, without bringing in a third. I'm always concerned that 'shoe horning' in a 3rd text that isn't really dealt nor fully developed with may cause students to digress from their thesis, plus the time constraint of 2 hours for 3 texts seems near impossible! Any ideas would be gratefully received!

David McIntyre 22 January 2015 - 09:43

Hi Caroline,

Having taught and examined IB English for a long time, I'd say that the majority of essays, and the best of essays, focus on only two texts. This approach, with limited time to write, affords (potentially) a deeper consideration of the chosen question and the supporting texts. Mostly, if not always, students write less good essays when three texts are mixed in. My contention applies at both SL and HL.

I think that's what you wanted to hear; right? :))


Mary Worrell 24 January 2015 - 19:52

Hi David,

This is a question I had from a colleague the other day: Can students bring their books into the Paper 2 exam?

I immediately said no, but when I looked in the guide and in the handbook of procedures, it doesn't specifically say one way or the other. Or maybe I'm not looking in the right place?

My colleague teaches another Language A and a fellow teacher in her network shared a sample Paper 2 essay with in-text page number references, which made it seem like the students had been consulting the text for direct quotes. It was my understanding that students are not to have their books in the exam.

Do you know where I might find this spelled out? Since this is my first year teaching, I'm a bit self-conscious about making sure I follow the IB's rules! :)


- Mary

David McIntyre 25 January 2015 - 12:44

Hi Mary,

No books in the exam - absolutely not. I think - I'm fairly confident - that the answer to the question is in a document called 'The Handbook of Procedures' (the definite article lends weight to that title!). The Handbook can be accessed on the OCC.

In the exam, students need/should not page reference. In other assessed components such as written tasks they should page reference.

Clear enough, I hope.



Mary Worrell 26 January 2015 - 11:54


I went looking for it in the handbook, but couldn't actually find mention of it. I was looking for reference to this specific exam, though, so that could be the issue. I suppose since the IB says no books can be used in any exams, that we are to assume that is for this exam, too. Thanks for confirming this!


David McIntyre 27 January 2015 - 02:38

Have a look for a document on the OCC, or ask your coordinator for it, called something like 'The Conduct of IB Diploma Examinations'. The answer - no books - is there, or can be interpolated.


imran atmaca 31 January 2015 - 22:19

Hi David,
First time teaching L&L at a school limited in in both resources and funds. Is it possible to get exam papers from past years. Many thanks

David McIntyre 1 February 2015 - 08:30

Hi Imran,

Unfortunately these have to be purchased from the IB. Your coordinator may be able to do this for you.



Estella Bastide 14 February 2015 - 21:02

(The OCC has recently uploaded a bank of sample papers with examiner feedback).

Lisa Jensen-Hengstler 24 February 2015 - 12:39

No Paper 2s in that bank, though. Not that I can see - anyone else see something I cannot? Also, just looked at the "instructions to candidates" on the Paper 2 exam - point three clearly says "You are not permitted to bring copies of the works you have studied into the examination room."

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